NurseAsk Nurse Lisa

Injection Drug Use

Viral Infections

Injection Drug Use (IDU) is a method of injecting a drug directly into the body- into a vein, muscle or under the skin with a needle and syringe. Many drugs are taken by injection to achieve a faster and stronger effect of the drug. People Who Inject Drugs (PWID) are at an increased risk of developing blood-borne infections, including human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) and viral hepatitis as well as increased risk of bacterial and fungal infections. These infections are primarily spread through using and sharing needles, syringes or other injection materials.

Access to prevention services is essential for all PWID to stay safe and reduce harms related to IDU. Syringe services programs (SSPs) as well as other community- based prevention programs that provide services for PWID by providing disposal for used syringes, sterile syringes and injection equipment as well as providing linkage to care have been shown to significantly reduce all harms associated with IDU. SSPs are effective, cost-saving and play an important role in reducing transmission of viral hepatitis, HIV and other infections for PWID.

Risks for Infection

Drug use increases a person’s risk of getting a viral infection, like HIV or hepatitis, in two ways:

  • When people inject drugs and share needles or other drug equipment. This can transfer viruses from one person to another because bodily fluids like blood stay on the equipment in tiny amounts–even if the equipment is wiped “clean.”
  • When drug use leads to poor judgment and risky behavior. Using drugs and alcohol can affect the choices a person makes. For example, it can lead to unsafe sex. This puts a person at risk for getting hepatitis from–or giving it to–someone else.

Here are some important things to think about:

  • Drugs can also make it easier for HIV to enter the brain and trigger an immune response and the release of toxins in the nervous system (brain and spinal cord). This can cause a kind of brain disorder called NeuroHIV.
  • Drug use and addiction can also speed up the progression of HIV and its consequences, especially in the brain, making AIDS-related deaths more likely.
  • Drug and alcohol use can also directly damage the liver, increasing the risk for chronic liver disease and cancer among those infected with hepatitis B or hepatitis C.

Viral Infection Prevention

There is currently no vaccine to prevent hepatitis C infection or HIV/AIDS, but people can reduce the risk of getting or passing on these infections by:

  • Not using drugs. Avoiding drugs reduces the chance of engaging in risky behaviors, like unsafe sex and sharing drug-use equipment.
  • Getting tested. Anyone who injects drugs should get tested for HIV and hepatitis. A person who is infected may look and feel life for years and may not even be aware of the infection, which is why testing is needed to help prevent the spread of disease.
  • Getting treatment for hepatitis B and C and to manage HIV. Doctors can prescribe medicines to help treat hepatitis B (HBV)and hepatitis C (HCV) infection and to manage HIV. Anyone with HBV, HCV, or HIV should seek medical care.
  • Getting treatment for a drug problem. Seeking treatment for problematic drug use can help people reduce drug use, related conditions, and other risk behaviors. Drug treatment programs also offer good information about HIV/AIDS, hepatitis, and related diseases. They also provide counseling and testing services and offer referrals for medical treatment.
  • Get vaccinated. There is a vaccine that can be given to prevent hepatitis B infection. Talk to your doctor to make sure you are vaccinated.

Get Help

For general resources about relationships, sex, wellness and more, please do a search on the Get Answers page.

Are you in immediate danger?

Call 911 or your local police. If not in an immediate threat, please view resources on the Get Help page.